Friday, February 5, 2010

White Collar 1.09: "Vital Signs"

“Run with it? No, Barney Fife, you can walk very slowly. As long as you don’t interrupt my breakfast again.”


I wouldn’t say that “Vital Signs” is one of my favorite episodes of “White Collar,” but it was a decent enough effort. I liked the fact that the case was more closely connected to the lives of our characters than usual, and I liked that June returned. In the pilot, it seemed like she would have a role to play in Neal’s life, and Diahann Carroll always gives a good performance. There was some fun trickery by Neal, and he didn’t completely get away with it, which was interesting. It was amusing to see Peter somewhat out of its element, although that’s a well the show seems to go to fairly often. Overall, this episode felt almost like it was trying to be an episode of “Leverage,” but because the show is about the FBI and the characters aren’t as quirky as the characters in “Leverage,” it didn’t quite work for me. I didn’t believe that the FBI could get away with some of the things that happened in this episode.

Neal brings the case of the week to the attention of Peter and his FBI team. Neal accompanied June to June’s granddaughter’s soccer game. This is obviously a different granddaughter from the one who was in the pilot. This granddaughter is much younger, and she is in need of a kidney transplant. To make matters worse, she was recently taken off the UNOS transplant list (what that happened isn’t exactly clear). A representative of an organization called “Hearts Wide Open” has approached June about finding a kidney, but they want a donation first. At least one hundred thousand dollars.

Neal approaches Peter with the situation (by walking into Peter’s house while Peter and Elizabeth are eating breakfast), and Peter tells Neal he can do a little investigating. Neal, of course, enlists the help of Mozzie. He has Mozzie sit in on the meeting between June and the Hearts Wide Open woman, whose name is Melissa, by the way, while he tries to break into the woman’s car to see what sort of incriminating information might be there. Neal runs into a snag when a cop almost sees him break into the car. In typical Neal style, though, he makes the cop think he’s a prosecutor about to bring down a punk who hit a cop, and the cop brings in extra help to get the car unlocked. It’s always fun to see Neal in action at his grifting best because Matt Bomer is a very charismatic actor, and that comes through most when Neal is spinning stories.

Even though Neal successfully got the cops off his back, his problems aren’t nearly over. Mozzie has managed to scare off Melissa. As he later explains to Neal, Mozzie tried to think of what Neal would do to delay Melissa. Mozzie then decided to ask Melissa to lunch, and Melissa got out of there as fast as she could. Neal just barely escapes being caught by her. The only interesting document he had time to look at was about an upcoming event involving an organization called Doctoral Global Initiative. Doctoral Global Initiative sends doctors to work in third world countries.

Neal and Peter decide to crash the event, posing as DGI doctors. Peter, although he’s not completely incompetent at undercover work, has a little more trouble than Neal with thinking of a cover story on the fly. Peter tells Melissa he’s a chiropractor. No offense to any chiropractors out there, but that’s kind of lame. Surprisingly, though Melissa is more drawn to Peter than Neal. This means Peter actually has to try to flirt if he’s going to get any more information about Hearts Wide Open. Really, the whole thing is just awkward. Peter’s great pick up line? “You look thirsty.” Elizabeth finds that hilarious when she learns about the whole thing later, and that almost makes watching all that awkwardness worth it.

Neal focuses his attention on Dr. Powell, the director of Hearts Wide Open. Neal poses as a doctor that spends a lot of time in India. Dr. Powell is especially interested in this, because what Hearts Wide Open actually does is find organs in the developing world for rich Americans. Dr. Powell himself has fairly serious kidney disease, and he believes that the population in one specific area of India might be genetically similar enough to be a match for himself. Neal says he will let Dr. Powell know if he comes across any promising donors in his travels.

The next day, the Hearts Wide Open clinic is acting spooked, shredding documents and such. Neal quickly figures out why. Peter has had the FBI request their financial information. This leads Neal to do something rash- he decides to try and infiltrate the clinic without FBI permission or support. And for once, he actually gets caught and finds himself in some pretty serious trouble. Strapped into restraints and injected with tranquilizer to be exact. I like that Neal finally got caught by someone other than Peter. It shows that he is truly only human.

Peter realizes Neal is in trouble, and he uses Neal’s GPS tracking device to figure out he’s at the clinic. Peter is furious that Neal has done something so rash, but he’s going to try to help him out anyway. The most difficult thing is figuring out a way to get into the clinic. Elizabeth has an idea- Peter should call Melissa and ask her to show him around. Elizabeth has to help Peter flirt when he calls Elizabeth, which was pretty darn hilarious. Peter ends up sneaking off as soon as he gets into the clinic, and it doesn’t take him very long to find Neal. Considering Neal is still loopy from the drugs and is singing at the top of his lungs, he’s pretty noticeable.

With Neal rescued, it’s time to put a final plan in place to bring down Dr. Powell. This time Peter and his FBI team are totally on board. They’re going to make Dr. Powell think he’s going into renal failure, then make him think he’s going to India for treatment. It’s an ambitious, and actually really cruel, plan. This is the part that really reminded me of “Leverage.” On “Leverage” there’s usually the “get the money back for the client” part of the job, but there’s also the “humiliate the bad guy” part of the job. The humiliation part of the episode “The Order 23 Job” was actually very similar to what the FBI does here- the Leverage team made a man believe he had a horrible illness.

The plan works, and Dr. Powell reveals his secret bank accounts before realizing that everything was a set-up, but I’m really confused about how we’re supposed to believe that the FBI could get away with pulling such a scheme. I believe it when the Leverage team gets away with it, Nate Ford does always like to say that his crew “picks up where the law leaves off,” but the FBI is the law. They don’t have the liberty to mess with people the way a bunch of ex-criminals can.

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